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Channel One More Often Used In Poorer Schools, Study Finds

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Schools with high concentrations of poor students are almost twice as likely to use the Channel One classroom television news show as schools with many wealthy students, a study by a University of Massachusetts researcher has found.

The independent study of the commercially sponsored news show from Whittle Communications also shows that schools that spend the least on instructional materials are more likely to use the program.

Participating schools are loaned free video equipment in exchange for requiring students to watch the 12-minute daily show, which includes two minutes of commercials.

"Channel One is disproportionately found in schools located in high-poverty areas,'' concludes the study by Michael Morgan, an associate professor of communications at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The program "is more often shown to the students who are probably least able to afford to buy all the products they see advertised,'' the report adds. "It requires no stretch of the imagination to suggest that this in turn may enhance their alienation and frustration.''

Mr. Morgan conducted the study for Unplug, a new national organization of young people whose stated goal is to rid the schools of commercial intrusions such as Channel One. (See Education Week, Oct. 6, 1993.)

Marianne Manilov, a co-director of Unplug, said the study provides evidence that schools that subscribe to Channel One are motivated more by the loan of video equipment than by the educational value of the news programming.

"Schools that can afford to say no to Whittle, say no,'' she said.

Jim Ritts, the president of network affairs for Whittle, said he questioned the data in the report, but he primarily objected to the conclusions drawn by the author and by Unplug.

"Let's assume that the data are true. So what?'' he asked. "Isn't that a good thing? We're leveling the playing field out there.''

A Large School Sample

Mr. Morgan's study is based on data from school surveys conducted by Market Data Retrieval, a unit of the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation. He used a sample of more than 17,000 schools, or nearly half of the schools in the United States with any combination of 6th through 12th grades, the target market for Channel One.

The only under-represented group in the large sample was rural schools, Mr. Morgan said. Private schools were excluded from the study because their use of Channel One is not relevant to the public-policy questions surrounding the show, he said.

The study shows that among schools where less that 5 percent of students come from families with incomes below the poverty line, only 16.6 percent used Channel One. But more than a third, or 37.7 percent, of schools with at least 25 percent of students in poverty used the program, the study found.

The study found comparable results for school spending, with one in 10 schools that spent more than $6,000 per student per year using Channel One, while six out of 10 schools where spending is $2,599 or less per pupil used the program.

"The clear suggestion is that the Channel One program ... takes the place of more proven educational resources in the country's most impoverished schools,'' Mr. Morgan writes.

The study found slightly increased levels of Channel One use in schools with high proportions of African-American and Latino students, while it found that schools with large numbers of Asian students were less likely to receive the show.

Mr. Ritts of Whittle said the company has no data on the family-income level of students in its viewing audience.

"The economic condition of the schools is absolutely irrelevant to us,'' he said. "We want to be where we are welcome.''

He added that he found it ironic that the Unplug coalition includes some of the same longtime critics of Channel One who once charged that "we were only going to target wealthy suburban districts because they would be the most attractive to advertisers.''

"They were wrong then and they are wrong now,'' he said.

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